It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For a few weeks towards the end of the calendar, a large part of the world takes on a magical glow where people seem merrier and even the harshest of northern hemisphere winters feels cosy. This festive period is a time for reflection, joy, family and giving, and is full of wonderfully different traditions from every corner of the globe. Here are some of our favourite Christmas customs:
1. Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines
The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul) is held each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando, the "Christmas Capital of the Philippines". The festival attracts visitors from both within the Philippines and those traveling from much further afield. Eleven barangays (similar to villages) take part in the fiercely competitive festival, where everyone pitches in to attempt to build the most elaborate giant lantern.
2. Krampus, Central Europe
In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as "half-goat, half-demon" who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved. This is in contrast to Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Krampus is one of Saint Nicholas’ companions in several countries, including Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In the first week of December, young men dress up as Krampus (especially on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day) to frighten children by clattering chains and bells.
3. Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner, Japan
Christmas has never been as much of a big event in Japan. Aside from a few small, secular traditions such as gift-giving and light displays, Christmas remains largely a novelty in the country. However, a new, quirky “tradition” has emerged in recent years – a Christmas Day feast of the Colonel’s very own Kentucky Fried Chicken.
4. Saint Nicholas Day, Germany
Not to be confused with the Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus), Saint Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night on December 6th and leaves small treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children all over Germany, particularly in the Bavarian region. Saint Nicholas also visits children in schools or at home and in exchange for sweets or a small present, each child must recite a poem, sing a song or draw a picture.
5. Broom Hiding, Norway
In Norway, it is thought that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrival of evil spirits and witches. To protect themselves, families hide all their broomsticks before they go to bed. It’s a tradition that dates back centuries to when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. To this day, many people still hide their own in the safest location of the house to stop them from being stolen.
6. Book Exchanging, Iceland
People in Iceland will often exchange books on Christmas Eve, then spend the rest of the night reading them and eating chocolate. This tradition is part of a season called Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood”. As a result, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country, selling the majority between September and November!
7. Spider Webs, Ukraine
Ukrainian Christmas trees are traditionally decorated with a fake spider and its web. The custom, which is said to bring good luck, stems from an old wives' tale where a poor woman who could not afford to decorate her tree woke up on Christmas morning to find a spider had covered it in a glittering web.
8. A Finnish Christmas
Although not strictly a tradition, the country of Finland seems as though it was made for Christmas. Reindeer run rampant in Lapland and Joulupukki, a bearded mythical figure who looks and acts for all the world like Santa Claus, is said to make his home in the same snow-covered spot. In Finland, families can often be found decorating gingerbread to hang on the branches of their spruce trees, making ice lanterns to line their driveways and wishing each other “Hyvää Joulua” at Christmas.
Did we miss one of your favourite Christmas traditions from around the world? Let us know in the comments so we can add it the post! Happy Holidays, one and all!